OpenAI releases Universe, a platform for training A.I.s to play games, use apps

OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research company, wants to let A.I.s loose in their own universe, where they can learn to play games, use apps and interact with websites.

Universe is the name of OpenAI’s tool for training A.I.s on, as it puts it, “any task a human can complete with a computer.” Using a VNC (Virtual Network Computing) remote desktop, it allows the A.I. to control the game or app using a virtual keyboard and mouse, and to see its output by analyzing the pixels displayed on the screen. It’s essentially an interface to the company’s Gym toolkit for developing reinforcement algorithms, a type of machine learning system.

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Computerworld Cloud Computing

AWS quietly launches tool for migrating on-premises apps to the cloud

Amazon is trying to simplify the process of moving legacy applications to the cloud with a new service that it quietly launched this week.  The aptly named Server Migration Service is designed to help IT teams set up the incremental replication of virtual machines from their on-premises infrastructure to Amazon’s cloud.

More companies are adopting the public cloud to take advantage of performance benefits and cost savings. But getting legacy apps into the cloud can be a pain, especially for those applications that require high uptime but take time to migrate. Server Migration Service helps simplify that process and may lead to additional cloud adoption.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Open source tool manages AWS Lambda apps

A new open source project from Express and Node.js-canvas creator TJ Holowaychuk lets developers create, deploy, and manage AWS Lambda functions from a command-line tool.

Apex, written in Google’s Go language, also makes it possible to run applications in languages not directly supported by AWS Lambda, such as Golang itself.

Apex deploys AWS Lambda functions via projects, aka collections of function definitions described with JSON. It bundles all the needed dependencies and uploads them to AWS, and it automatically cleans up older or outdated versions of functions. In a nod to building versioned APIs, Apex allows users to manually specify which versions of a given function to retain.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Amazon discovery service marks on-premises apps for assimilation

Sometimes the hardest part of performing a cloud migration is figuring out what has to be migrated in the first place. That’s one idea behind Amazon’s now generally available AWS ADS (Application Discovery Service), which polls existing on-premises systems and determines what apps they’re running as a prelude to migration.

Originally announced in April, ADS is yet another sign that Amazon is more interested in building a one-way bridge into its cloud than in creating a two-way street involving a hybrid cloud strategy.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

New Azure tool helps IT tame SaaS apps

More organizations are moving their data out of their data centers and into the cloud, which complicates IT’s efforts to keep track of applications in use. With the new Microsoft Cloud App Security within Microsoft Azure, IT and security teams can step up application discovery and apply controls in line with existing security, privacy, and compliance policies.

Most enterprises rely on cloud applications, whether or not they are officially sanctioned. Shadow IT is pervasive, with employees signing up for SaaS applications on their own without first going through IT. According to Microsoft’s statistics, an employee uses 17 cloud applications on average, and an organization shares 13 percent of its files externally, of which a quarter are shared publicly. Business units do what they must to get the job done, but IT is left in the dark about what applications employees use and where corporate data is stored.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Moving to the cloud? First choose the right apps

Most enterprise IT shops have more than 1,000 applications they must understand or relearn before moving any of them to the cloud. You simply can’t move your apps en masse.

Why? Because some workloads make sense for the cloud, and some do not. Here’s my guide on how you can assess which are good candidates for a move to the cloud.

Key factors for determining cloud-ready applications

Good candidates for the cloud are applications that were built in the last 15 years and use a language supported by your target cloud. If you find an analogous platform for these in the cloud, your migration should be easy.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Zappa serves Python Web apps, minus the servers

Zappa, a framework for running “server-less” Python Web applications, will deploy scalable applications to the cloud with one command.

Detailed by Rich Jones of freelance developer service gun.io, Zappa, named for the late musician, uses the AWS Lambda compute service and Amazon’s API gateway service. Applications can be deployed for a fraction of the expense that comes with using a traditional Web server, Jones said in a blog post announcing the service this week. The first major client library for the framework is django-zappa, for deploying Django applications on AWS Lambda with the gateway.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Salesforce.com buys developer of quoting and billing apps for SMEs

If you can’t beat them, buy them: Salesforce.com is snapping up SteelBrick, a startup that builds quoting and billing functions for SMEs on the Salesforce cloud platform.

Apps built natively on the platform allow Salesforce.com customers to add functionality to their CRM systems with fewer integration hassles than they might face with software hosted elsewhere.

SteelBrick makes configure-price-quote and subscription-billing apps for small and medium-size enterprises, and recently added subscription billing functions with the acquisition of U.K.-based Invoice IT. The apps automate much of the process from establishing a customer’s requirements to collecting payment. Customers for the software include Japanese manufacturing company Mitsubishi Electric and Silicon Valley neighbors Cloudera and Nutanix.

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Computerworld Cloud Computing

Salesforce.com buys developer of quoting and billing apps

If you can’t beat them, buy them: Salesforce.com is snapping up SteelBrick, a startup that builds quoting and billing functions for SMEs on the Salesforce cloud platform.

Apps built natively on the platform allow Salesforce.com customers to add functionality to their CRM systems with fewer integration hassles than they might face with software hosted elsewhere.

SteelBrick makes configure-price-quote and subscription-billing apps for small and medium-size enterprises, and recently added subscription billing functions with the acquisition of U.K.-based Invoice IT. The apps automate much of the process from establishing a customer’s requirements to collecting payment. Customers for the software include Japanese manufacturing company Mitsubishi Electric and Silicon Valley neighbors Cloudera and Nutanix.

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InfoWorld Cloud Computing

Why monolithic apps are often better than microservices

Sinclair is CEO and cofounder of Apprenda, a leader in enterprise Platform as a Service.

With all of the talk these days about microservices and distributed applications, monolithic applications have become the scourge of cloud systems design. Normally, when a new technical trend emerges to replace a previous one, it is due (at least in part) to evolved thinking. The odd thing with monolithic application architecture, however, is that nobody ever proposed it as a good idea in the first place.

The idea of loosely coupled services with clear boundaries has been around for decades in software engineering. So, how did we end up with so many apps “designed” as monoliths? In a word – convenience.

The fact is, in many use cases, monolithic architectures come with some non-trivial and durable benefits that we can’t simply discount because it doesn’t adhere to a modern pattern. Conversely, microservices can introduce significant complexity to application delivery that isn’t always necessary.

As a fan of microservices, I fear enterprises are blindly charging forward and could be left disappointed with a microservices-based strategy if the technology is not appropriately applied.  The point of this post isn’t to pour FUD onto microservices. It’s about understanding tradeoffs and deliberately selecting microservices based on their benefits rather than technical hype.

Debugging and testing

Generally speaking, monolithic applications are easier to debug and test when compared to their microservices counterparts. Once you start hopping across process, machine, and networking boundaries, you introduce many hundreds of new variables and opportunities for things to go wrong – many of which are out of the developer’s control.

Also, the looser the dependency between components, the harder it is to determine when compatibility or interface contracts are broken. You won’t know something has gone wrong until well into runtime.

Performance

If your shiny new mobile app is taking several seconds to load each screen because it’s making 30 API calls to 30 different microservices, your users aren’t going to congratulate you on this technical achievement. Sure, you can add some clever caching and request collapsing, but that’s a lot of additional complexity you just bought yourself as a developer.

If you’re talking about a complicated application being used by hundreds of thousands or millions of users, this additional complexity may well be worth the benefits of a microservices architecture. But, most enterprise line-of-business applications don’t approach anything near that scale.

Security and operations

Fortune 500 enterprises I work with struggle with managing the relatively coarse-grained application security IT departments use today. If you’re going to break up your application into lots of tiny services, you’re going to have to manage the service-to-service entitlements that accompany this plan. While managing “many as one” has time tested benefits, it’s also contrary to the motivation behind microservices.

Planning and design

Microservices have a higher up-front design cost and can involve complicated political conversations across team boundaries. It can be tricky to explain why your new “pro-agile” architecture is going to take weeks of planning for every project to get off the ground. There’s also a very real risk of “over-architecting” these types of distributed solutions.

Final thoughts

Having said all of this, microservices can absolutely deliver significant benefits. If you’re building a complicated application and/or work across multiple development teams operating in parallel and iterating often, microservices make a ton of sense.

In fact, in these types of situations, monolithic applications simply serve as repositories of technical debt that ultimately becomes crippling. There is a clear tipping point here where each of the advantages of monolithic applications I described earlier become liabilities.  They become too large to debug without understanding how everything fits together, they don’t scale, and your security model isn’t granular enough to expose segments of functionality.

One way to help reduce and in some cases even eliminate the technical “tax” associated with microservices is to pair them with an enterprise Platform as a Service (PaaS). A proper enterprise PaaS is designed to stitch together distributed services and takes deployment, performance, security, integration, and operational concerns off the developer and operators’ plates.

Why monolithic apps are often better than microservices originally published by Gigaom, © copyright 2015.

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